ArticlePDF Available

Habit as a Connecting Nature, Mind and Culture in C.S. Peirce’s Semiotic Pragmaticism



This paper investigates how Peirce manages to establish a transdisciplinary view of the sciences that is not hostile to religious spirituality viewed as a complementary view of knowing to science. I focus on Peirce’s attempt to construct an alternative to the classical mechanical ontology with its reversible time concept and transcendental laws of nature. His semiotic pragmaticism has empiricism in common with the empiricists and to a certain degree with the logical positivists, but it shares the fallibilist critical stance with Popper, with whose critical rationalism Peirce also shares a thorough- going evolutionary approach. With Hegel and Schelling, he shares a kind of evolutionary objective idealism and with Whitehead a thorough-going process view, and finally with Wittgenstein a pragmatic view of the meaning of words and concepts. What knits together all these views is his Synechism and its transdisciplinary view of habits, which includes the idea that the “laws” of nature emerge in the development of the cosmos as well as a view of mind as being part of basic reality. Though Peirce is somehow close to Hegel’s dialectical view on cosmogony, a number of aspects are quite unique about his approach: i.e. his phenomenological point of departure, the dynamic triadic categories he defined and the semiotics he developed on that basis in order to understand human beings as well as the universe as symbolic self-organizing developing processes. This is his alternative to modern mechanical info-computationalism.
Proceedings 2017, 1, 226; doi:10.3390/IS4SI-2017-03976
Habit as a Connecting Nature, Mind and Culture in
C.S. Peirce’s Semiotic Pragmaticism
Søren Brier
Department for Management, Society and Communication, Copenhagen Business School, Dalgas Have 15,
2000 Frederiksberg, Denmark;
Presented at the IS4SI 2017 Summit DIGITALISATION FOR A SUSTAINABLE SOCIETY, Gothenburg,
Sweden, 12–16 June 2017.
Published: 8 June 2017
Peirce’s view of science and religion differs from the received view and therefore has interesting
consequences for how we see the connections between the two [1]. Peirce was like Karl Popper a
fallibilist opposing the logical positivist epistemology of possibility of verification of scientific
theories and models. The end of research in a certified truth is an ideal far away in the future [2].
Furthermore he was not a physicalistic material mechanists but a process philosopher and an
evolutionary synechist [3]. This means that he thought that mind and matter was connected in a
continuum and that matter has some internal living qualities, because he did not believe that the
world is ruled by absolute precisely determinable laws that somehow existed before the manifest
universe in time and space came to be [4]. A further problem with the mechanicism of classical
physics was that the time concept in Newton’s theory of motion was reversible. Time had no arrow.
But in Peirce’s cosmogony change is at the basis as Firstness is imbued with the tendency to take
habits and time therefore has an arrow and is irreversible and therefore what the laws manifested as
the universe develop. This was unthinkable from a mechanical point of view. But Prigogine and
Stengers [5]—in there development of non-equilibrium thermodynamics based on Boltzmann’s
probability interpretation of thermodynamics—got irreversibility accepted as the basic process in
physical ontology and in 2013 the recognized physicist Lee Smolin published the book Time Reborn
[6] where he accepts Peirce’s as well as Prigogine’s views on the nature of time, change and law,
which was a big change in foundational conception og physics. In contrast to Smolin and Prigogine
Peirce also grounds his philosophical framework in phenomenology. He is inspired by German
idealism and Naturphilosophie especially Hegel and Schelling though he is also a kind of empiricist.
This makes him a kind of process objective idealist; but a very special one. In the tradition of
Aristoteles, Hegel and Kant he worked out system of basic categories that had deep influence on his
Cosmogony [4].
Peirce saw as his primary task to develop an architectonical metaphysical and epistemological
system in which his new theory of triadic categorical theory was connected to a dynamic triadic web
of semiotics viewed as the dynamics of objective mind [7] based on an emptiness ontology [5] and a
continuity principle (synechism), which in some aspect is close to modern quantum field physics
vacuum field [10] (pp. 300–324 and 303–304). Peirce is influenced by Aristotle’s concept of form, but
based on an evolutionary Cosmogony inspired by a combination of Hegel and Schelling and a
scientific world view from early 20’th. century. For Peirce therefore, a sign is a medium for the
communication of a form or habit, embodied in the object to the interpretant, in order to constrain
the interpreter’s behaviour as specifically as possible [10] (544).
Peirce sees through his triadic semiotics the universe as a very abstract symbolic process in self-
development unfolding its laws in the process through the manifestations of signs and habits
(Romanini 2014). It is a very anti-fundamentalist view avoiding any kind of scientism and
fundamentalist religion too. It sees the formation of habit in Thirdness as the basic process of our
reality in nature, experience, cognition and communication. Habit taking is of cause also basic to all
Proceedings 2017, 1, 226 2 of 3
kinds of magic and religious rituals, but people often forget that they are habits them-selves and
therefor will undergo progressive change too. To Peirce our self is a symbol that grows with our life
experience. As the laws are rather vague tendencies in the beginning that become more and more
rigid habits as the universe unfolds Peirce’s important point is that we do not have absolute
knowledge, we do not have absolute knowledge. It develops all the time like in the dialectical views
be it Hegel’s or Marx and Engels. This ontology makes room for life and the evolution of mind. Peirce
sees the universe develops from emptiness, not much different from modern quantum field physics
vacuum field, that is a spontaneous chaos of all possibilities [3]; except that the explanation is placed
in his semiotic vision that sees matter as effete mind and the universe as a symbol in development to
an a grand argument [2]. As he also points out the same place, a symbol “produces an endless series
of interpretants, “and that reality” can only be regarded as the limit of the endless series of symbols.
A symbol is essentially a purpose, that is to say, is a representation that seeks to make itself definite,
or seeks to produce an interpretant more definite than itself.”
This is pretty close to general system theory’s process ontology of the Self-organizing Universe [8],
but adds the dynamics of the three categories, which is pretty close to Hegel’s dialectics, but
developed into a semiotics. Thus cosmogony and evolution is seen as a dynamic interaction between
the three categories. Neither of the categories can be reduced to the other, but cosmogonically viewed,
they are derived from each other. Since Firstness is a state of absolute possibility and radical
indeterminacy as close to nothingness as possible, it is an absolute permissibility with no cause
outside itself. From here, Secondness emerges as one of many possibilities as difference, other,
individuality, limit, force and will. Thirdness is the mediating habit-taking aspect of evolution that
contributes to the creation of an emergent semiotic order based on habits in matter as well as mind
and culture somewhat different from Hegel’s dialectical evolution of objective Mind and as well the
dialectical materialism of Frederick Engels Dialectics of Nature from 1893. In contrast to Engels,
Peirce’s categories also have a phenomenological aspect and in contrast to Hegel he has the category
of Secondness, which creates the empirical connection to reality and as such the possibility of
falsification, which later became so important in Karl Popper’s philosophy of science. But new
compared to all other philosophers is his view of the universe as a developing symbol, creating new
habits of meaning creating and endless stream of interpretants making its reasoning powers grow [4]
and extending into our cultures [2]( 1.615). Thus for Peirce habit, mediation and reasoning power is
a basic character of reality going from (what we call) dead nature, over living nature, mind and
culture all the way up to our cultural and religious symbols. For Peirce it is the Growth of love and
reasonableness in what he calls agapism [2] (6.205). These are also part of our reasoning about nature
and our life and how they are connected and to what purpose. Peirce's semiotics is a general theory
of all kinds of sign systems. Those systems include, as special cases, all natural languages and all
versions of formal logic. That logic is semiotic is essential to Peirce’s semiotic philosophy. What we
usually call logic is on a limited formal side of the whole thing, which is a normative science for
correct thinking based on sign. Why the nature of signs and their way to reference and represent
forms of reality are essential to fully understand logic. Evolution is a growth in reasonableness [11],
habit and order and therefore goodness or the Summum Bonum [12]. Going back towards chaos and
randomness cannot be a common good or something anyone would desire. Reasonableness must be
viewed as progress [2] (5.4.). Peirce’s Synechism is opposed to any kind of duality, be it between
matter or mind, nature and culture or between science and religion. Still Peirce considers it a
metaphysical principle in the philosophy of science and knowing that we can call semiotic
pragmaticism [2] (7.578). For Peirce life, mind and semiosis are different concepts describing the
actions of signs. Life emerges from the dynamics of signs. Biosemiotics is fundamentally the study of
symbols as living signs. Semiosis is naturalized to explain mental and living processes, which are
considered to be of the same nature as symbols [13]. Modern science has the challenge of
understanding the mental world in terms of the physical world. We know that we have not come to
the end of our knowledge of matter and energy, since we are inventing new types like dark matter
and energy. If we want a sort of monism even if it is a triadic process one, we need to find a way to
connect mind and matter. On way is Peirce and Aristotle’s that matter has an “inside” that is
Proceedings 2017, 1, 226 3 of 3
somehow alive and spontaneously dynamic as we have found it in quantum physics, but which was
already part of Engels nature dialectics and Bertallanffy’s general system theory. But none of these
had like Hegel and Peirce a foundation i phenomenology. Hegel is the typical example of objective
idealism. Peirce usually accepts that term for his philosophy, but it is a semiotic one that makes it
stand apart from all other forms. By making nature symbolic and letting signs having their own self-
organizing abilities he created a philosophy of habits of nature that makes a deep connection between
our cultural and mental thinking and communication in symbols and stories where Aesthetics, Ethics
and Logics converge into the summum bonum [12].
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.
1. Brier, S. Cybersemiotics and the reasoning powers of the universe: Philosophy of information in a Semiotic-
Systemic Transdisciplinary Approach. Green Lett. Stud. Ecocriticism 2015, 19, 280–292.
2. Peirce, C.S. Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce; Hartshorne, C., Weiss, P., Eds.; Harvard University
Press: Cambridge, MA, USA, Past Masters electronic version containing Vols. I-VI ed. Charles Hartshorne
and Paul Weiss (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1931-1935), Vols. VII-VIII ed. Arthur W. Burks
(same publisher, 1958).Charlottesville: Intelex Corporation.
3. Brier, S. “Pure zero”. In Charles Sanders Peirce in His Own Words-100 Years of Semiotics, Communication and
Cognition; Thellefsen, T.; Sørensen, B., Eds.; De Gruyter Mouton: Berlin, Germany, 2014; pp. 207–212.
4. Brier, S. The Riddle of the Sphinx Answered: On How C.S. Peirce’s Transdisciplinary Semiotic Philosophy of
Knowing Links Science, Spirituality and Knowing; Death and Anti-Death; Ria University Press: Ann Arbor, MI,
USA, 2014; Volume 12, pp. 47–130.
5. Prigogine, I.; Stengers, I. Order Out of Chaos; Bantam Books: New York, NY, USA, 1984.
6. Smolin, L. Time Reborn; Alan Lane: London, UK, 2013.
7. Raposa, M.L. Peirce’s Philosophy of Religion; Indiana University Press: Bloomington, IN, USA; Indianapolis,
IN, USA, 1989.
8. Jantsch, E. The Self-Organizing Universe; Pergamon Press: New York, NY, USA, 1980.
9. Houser, N.; Kloesel, C. (Eds.) The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings; Indiana University Press:
Bloomington, IN, USA, 1992; Volume 1.
10. Peirce, C.S. The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings; Indiana University Press: Bloomington, IN,
USA, 1998; Volume 2.
11. Stjernfelt, F. Natural Propositions; Docent Press: Boston, MA, USA, 2014.
12. Potters, V.G. Charles S. Peirce: On Norms & Ideals; Fordham University Press: New York, NY, USA, 1997.
13. Romanini, V. Semiosis as a Living Process. In Peirce and Biosemiotics: A Guess at the Riddle of Life; Romanini,
V., Fernández, E., Eds.; Biosemiotics 11; Springer: Dordrecht, The Netherlands, 2014; pp. 215–239.
© 2017 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access
article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution
(CC BY) license (
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
To follow the transdisciplinary ambition in much information science and philosophy leading to cognitive science we need to include a phenomenological and hermeneutical ground in order to encompass a theory of interpretative meaning and signification to achieve a transdisciplinary theory of knowing and communication. This is also true if we start in cybernetics and system theory that also have transdisciplinary aspirations for instance in Batesons ecological concept of information as a difference that makes a difference and in Luhmann’s triple autopoietic communication-based system theory. Charles Sanders Peirce’s pragmaticist semiotics integrates logic and information in interpretative semiotics. But although Peirce’s information theory is built on meaningful signs and he connects information to the growth of symbols, his information theory is empirically based in a realistic worldview, which in the development to modern biosemiotics include all living systems.
Charles S. Peirce occupies a secure and significant position in the annals of American intellectual history. His impact on contemporary philosophy, logic, semiotic, literary theory and communication studies has been enormous. Nevertheless, only a handful of theologians and philosophers of religion have looked to his writings as an important resource; very few of his commentators have paid to the religious dimension of his thought the attention that it deserves.^ The purpose of this dissertation is to underscore the role that religious ideas played in shaping Peirce's philosophy, and to provide a systematic account of his philosophy of religion. There is a hermeneutical difficulty here; very few of Peirce's writings are devoted explicitly to religious topics. I contend, however, that Peirce's interest in and perspective on such topics are manifested throughout his corpus, in scientific and mathematical papers, as well as in his writings on metaphysics, cosmology and the normative sciences. I conclude that Peirce's religious ideas are continuous with and integral to his reflections on these other issues, so that they must be identified and understood if his work as a whole is to be interpreted properly. And I suggest that his writings ought to be considered an important resource for contemporary scholars of religion, briefly indicating at the end of my study those of his ideas that might be most fruitfully entertained and developed.^ Peirce's most famous essay in the philosophy of religion, "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God," provides a useful sketch of his general religious perspective. I use the argument there to organize my study; an extended commentary on that essay comprises my fifth, penultimate chapter.
First Feynman and Wheeler suggested in-out waves associated with elementary particles. Quantum field theory has waves propagating backward in time producing standing waves. The math suggests that the sun also produces its own in-out waves which spaced and now stabilize the planets. The same is true for the gaseous planets with their sattelites. I propose two postulates (suggested by my work). (1) Longitudinal waves are produced by electromagnetic sources. These waves become standing waves because space(or the vacuum)responds with an automatic return wave related to the inertial nature of space.(2)Larger sources such as the sun excite smaller sources such as the planets with successively smaller sources producing shorter and shorter wavelengths at lower and lower power. The hierarchical nature is suggested by 1/f phenomena. The standing waves from larger sources produce the organizing forces for galaxy and star formation as well as the repeating structures of the universe. The wave effects were first found in plant organization and then it was observed that the waves are everywhere. See the Wagner web site .
The Riddle of the Sphinx Answered: On How C.S. Peirce's Transdisciplinary Semiotic Philosophy of Knowing Links Science, Spirituality and Knowing
  • S Brier
Brier, S. The Riddle of the Sphinx Answered: On How C.S. Peirce's Transdisciplinary Semiotic Philosophy of Knowing Links Science, Spirituality and Knowing; Death and Anti-Death;
Stengers, I. Order Out of Chaos
  • I Prigogine
Prigogine, I.; Stengers, I. Order Out of Chaos; Bantam Books: New York, NY, USA, 1984.
The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings
  • N Houser
  • C Kloesel
Houser, N.; Kloesel, C. (Eds.) The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings; Indiana University Press: Bloomington, IN, USA, 1992; Volume 1.
Natural Propositions
  • F Stjernfelt
Stjernfelt, F. Natural Propositions; Docent Press: Boston, MA, USA, 2014.